Legacy of the Confederacy on military service: Do “Confederates in blue” have influence?

Robert Moore has, as he often does, posted a thought provoking piece today.   Some of the present debates about the Confederate legacy in play in our present day brought Robert to think about how that intersects with notions of military service:

I know how people like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson touched something within me, and inspired a sense of dutyhonor… and, frankly, I knew from an early age that I was going to serve my country. It wasn’t debatable (I can’t help but hearing, right now, some of my old shipmates calling me a “dig’it”. Lol.).

So, when we see the current trend of removing the Confederate flag, discussion of moving/removing monuments, vandalizing monuments, etc. – all because it “inspires hatred”, and therefore, must be removed to eliminate, at least that much “inspiration” (because, certainly, there’s more out there that serves as “inspiration”), I wonder just how many out there find another kind of “inspiration” in Confederate iconography… the positive kind… especially U.S. military veterans. I’m really curious as to how many have been inspired, in some way, by the legacy of Confederate leaders such as these? I’ve mentioned it before… some key people in WW1, like Lejeune; and in WW2, like Patton, Puller, Buckner.. and many others, are just a few examples.

An interesting observation and a point to ponder.

As I mentioned with respect to the Confederate memorials, it is important to consider the subject of those public fixtures.  The surface intent of those memorials was to force the audience to recall the service and sacrifice of individuals who answered the call to war.  Now that war was for, we must agree, a terrible cause.  But it was a call placed by society, none-the-less.  We certainly should discuss that cause.  However, it is important to caveat that discussion with the separation of “causes” and “motivations” in respect to the soldier’s service.  We might enter the same logical start point with respect to the Vietnam War (or maybe the wars in Iraq?).  This changes the foundation of the discussion somewhat.

And thinking to Robert’s observation, can we find inspiration… or at least some redeeming quality … from the service of Confederate veterans?

Robert has a poll on his site that addresses that question.  Please click over there and offer your take.

However, let me take Robert’s point and step to another…. Consider if you will our oral history, and to a degree the ‘pop’ history, with respect to the Confederate veterans.  As Robert and others say, there is a legacy of reconciliation and … in general… “coming to terms.”  Indeed the vast majority of former Confederates reverted to U.S. citizenship, and for all measure there was little to question that loyalty.  (And lets remember… there are a lot of loyal Americans who disagree with Presidents, Congress, or particular laws.  That disagreement is well below the measure of disloyalty.)

Some of this plays out in our collective memory of those post-war years.  Again, the oral and pop history give us plenty of examples to lean on, if we are searching for inspiration of the kind Robert alludes to.  One stereotypical figure is the “Confederate in blue.”  Not talking specifically of the “Galvanized Yankees” who were more so a wartime convention, being recruited from the prisoner camps.  More so the former Confederates who after the war served in the US Army.  As the stereotype works, that was linked to the frontier.  We see that stereotype personified in the westerns of the 20th century.  An ample example is “Trooper John Smith” from that classic “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.”


Here’s a clip of that movie in which “John Smith’s” Confederate service receives notice, at about the 1:40 mark:

Later, as Captain Nathan Brittles lays Smith to rest, he offers this eulogy:

I also commend to your keeping, Sir, the soul of Rome Clay, late Brigadier General, Confederate States Army. Known to his comrades here, Sir, as Trooper John Smith, United States Cavalry… a gallant soldier and a Christian gentleman.

Another dialog occurs in the movie “Fort Apache” as Captain Yorke (John Wayne again) discusses a detail with Lieutenant-Colonel Thursday, with some situational humor laced in:

 Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: I’m for it, Captain. How many men will you need?

Captain Yorke: One, sir. Sergeant Beaufort.

RSM Michael O’Rourke: PRIVATE Beaufort, sir!

Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Why him?

Captain Yorke: He speaks Spanish – so does Cochise. My Apache has its limits.

Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Shouldn’t you take another officer instead?

Captain Yorke: Well, Sergeant Beaufort was…

RSM Michael O’Rourke: PRIVATE Beaufort, sir!

Captain Yorke: Private Beaufort was a major in the Confederate army… an aide to Jeb Stuart.

Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Hmm. I remember “Kaydet” Stuart. He was…

Captain Collingwood: Quite.

Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Were you saying something, Captain?

Captain Collingwood: I said, “Quite,” sir.

Some will wash this off as just the “reconciliationist” attitudes still persistent in 1949.  Like much of our history, there is more here than a simple explanation.

How many former Confederates went west to serve in the US Army?  I don’t think anyone has ever quantified that.  There were without doubt some “Trooper John Smiths” and “Sergeant Beauforts” were out there.  Though I don’t think it was a significant portion of the force.

Hollywood… or specifically, John Ford… looked to bring some positive and inspirational qualities out from the story of individual Confederate veterans. Yes we need to put it in context of an overall “we are Americans and reconciled” theme.  But we also need to consider why the writers and directors chose to pinpoint these particular details.  Is it not to show that individuals are… well… individuals?  And there is something to everyone’s story that is worth consideration?

I dare say that trend, with respect to Confederate veterans, continues in Hollywood today:

I think the study of such characters – Trooper John Smith, Sergeant … er.. Private Beaufort, and Cullen Bohannon – serves a valuable purpose.  These were individuals.  And individuals can be measured both “inside of” and “aside from” what ever causes they might have served.

What do you say?

“numerous plaques, markers and signs all over Loudoun County celebrating the Confederacy”… Actually just three

Having featured Loudoun’s Confederate memorial in an earlier post, let me pass along an update on that story.  Yesterday, Loudoun Times posted:

Loudoun NAACP To Rally At County Courthouse

The NAACP’s Loudoun Branch will hold a rally at the county courthouse in Leesburg this weekend in remembrance of the slaves sold on the building’s steps and of the Union soldiers who died in the locality.

The event will focus on demanding the placement of memorial monuments in honor of those slaves and soldiers and on a request that physical recognition be placed on the grounds that the courthouse is a registered National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom historical site.

“The courthouse grounds are rich with history of past activities, but there are only plates and descriptions of selected pieces of that history,” Phillip Thompson, the branch’s president, said in a prepared statement. “Let’s ensure that visitors are able to get the full history, to include the slaves and Union soldiers that fought for Loudoun County.”

The Loudoun NAACP opposes the Confederate statue located on the grounds of the courthouse, the statement said, but the branch decided not to focus on removing that memorial but instead on adding recognition of the slaves sold in Leesburg, the Union soldiers who fought for their freedom and the historical significance of the courthouse.

These parts of history aren’t commemorated, the statement said, while there are “numerous plaques, markers and signs all over Loudoun County celebrating the Confederacy.”   (Full article here)

The article goes on to relate details of the rally, scheduled for Saturday, July 18.  If I am not employed otherwise, I will likely attend.

I applaud this effort by the Loudoun NAACP and the sentiment expressed by Thompson.  This is the right approach, in my opinion, to a complex and tricky subject.  While the NAACP chapter may oppose the statue, they are offering constructive alternatives.

However, I have to take exception with the last bit.  … “numerous plaques, markers and signs all over Loudoun County celebrating the Confederacy.”   We (speaking for HMDB here) have 73 Civil War related Historical Marker Database entries for Loudoun County.  Here’s a map for those who prefer the information in that order.  There are a few recent Civil War Trails markers that I’m behind on.  They will be transcribed and added in good order.  So let’s just say 78 as a total for now counting those.

Of these 78 markers, monuments, and memorials (which would include plaques), how many “celebrate the Confederacy”?

Well first off, I’m assuming Thompson used “celebrate” as in the notion of “commemorate.”  And that being to “recall and show respect for” in a memorial sense.  As I said with respect to Slate’s “chilling inscriptions,” we cannot say that ALL Civil War markers are “celebrating” the Confederacy.    I’ve written the text for several of the recent Civil War Trails markers.  None of them celebrate the Confederacy.  The text is cut to provide facts, figures, and details of the incidents for which they interpret.  There is no celebration of either side there.  Indeed, just across from the Confederate memorial is this Civil War Trails marker discussing incidents from the town’s Civil War experience.

Loudoun CH Marker 070

Portraits of three Federals and two Confederates.   I’d say, with a little pride in the work done by our committee over the last five years, that’s rather balanced coverage.  And I would further point out that a few blocks away another marker in the Civil War Trails series is fully devoted to the story of the USCT veterans who called Leesburg home:


As expressed when the marker was dedicated, it is my hope this is the first of many in the county to highlight the service of the USCT veterans.  Certainly there is more of this story to tell.  And perhaps the Court House green is the place to tell that.  Our limitation thus far prohibiting more Civil War Trails markers has been funding, not ideas. But as for “celebrating the Confederacy,” of those 78 entries, I find only three.  Three… one of which is the Loudoun Confederate Memorial in question.


There is also the 8th Virginia Infantry Regiment memorial on the Balls Bluff battlefield:

Balls Bluff 1 Sept 005

More about the 8th Virginia appears on an interpretive marker nearby. Lastly, there is a monument to Clinton Hatcher, also on the Balls Bluff battlefield:

Balls Bluff 1 Sept 019

More of Hatcher’s story is on an interpretive marker next to the stone. Of the three, I call the first two “memorials.”  Clinton Hatcher’s is more of a monument, as it very much tied to the physical location.  But undeniably, all three are commemorative of people who were Confederate.  Though, as related before, there is more to that commemoration than the word “slavery.”  We need to understand what those inscriptions say before making blanket categorizations.

So just as I said with respect to Slate’s article, we cannot simply say anything mentioning the Confederacy or the Civil War is automatically “celebrating the Confederacy.”  The vast majority of those 78 items I catalog above are purely interpretive.  Again, is more needed?  You bet!  And I’ll be working on it!

Yes.  There may be “numerous” plaques and markers that mention the Confederacy throughout Loudoun County.  But that is not the same as saying those “commemorate” the Confederacy.   Let us not impose a “chilling effect” over the subject of the Civil War.  Focus the debate where it needs to be, and then let us ALL celebrate our common,shared Civil War history.

Military history *is* history… and it *is* a separate discipline

I received a fair number of hits for last week’s post about field tests of canister… and a lot of good comments (both on line here and off line in private) from folks associated with that project.  Bully!  The topic of that post was in the “red meat” section of my blogging menu.  It is the sort of subject that I like reading, researching, and writing about.  And it is the sort of subject that seem to get a lot of traffic.

That’s not to say I’m just posting to boost my page views.  Rather, I’m simply concluding that people who like reading that sort of thing are apt to click on links to my blog.  Some people like bar-b-que  for dinner.  And they will look for a BBQ joint off the highway exit.   You want brisket, a rack of ribs, or some pulled pork?   We have you covered.  You want a soup and salad?  There’s a Panera Bread somewhere down the road… thank you and enjoy your meal.

However, there always seems to be someone showing up at Taco Bell demanding a burger and fries.  I had one of those customers on Saturday.  His comment:

I guess this was one of your “throw away” posts. Nothing better to write about on this day? I find the minutia covering the number of bits in a shell or the velocity of a bullet to be trivial at best. None of this matters in the larger picture.

OK.  I guess he didn’t like the barbeque sauce. I can live with that.  But let me turn that into what those in the pop-history circles are calling “a teachable moment.”

Military history – what I deem of sufficient interest for me to write about on a regular basis – is certainly part of a larger subject we call history.  To be precise, it is a discipline within history.  There are other disciplines within that bigger subject of history, notably economic history, social history, political history, medial history… and … even… art history.  Each has a defined area.  For the most part, we can define those disciplines by the methods, practices, and conventions used within.  Yet, that is not to say each discipline is separated from the other.  Nor is it to say that there are somehow exclusive subject areas for each.  Rather, these disciplines overlap.  Sort of like this:


Again, keep in mind what defines a discipline.  It’s not the subject, but rather the methods used to study and relate the material.  You might apply any historical discipline to the subject.  But each discipline has its own rules and approaches.  In the application, a discipline might be considered a perspective.

Consider for the Civil War how this would work.  Let us take the Winter Encampment of 1864 as our subject.  That being the body of material, how best to examine it?  A pure military history approach might focus on the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac, the military operations over the Rapidan, and the daily “spy game” going on with the picket posts and signal stations.  Meanwhile, looking at the political history there are another set of highlights, in particular the ongoing saga of Meade and the Committee on the Conduct of the War.  Or maybe the political influences and divisions within the camp.

But as we study along each approach, we’d be more and more drawn to the reality that all are intertwined.  The more we’d study about the tactical movements at Morton’s Ford the more we have to bring up the political maneuverings that brought about such a tragically misguided mission.  And I could cherry-pick out other examples where social history and economic history work against the same subject body as military history, in regard to that Winter Encampment. Same with any other episode of the Civil War (or other wars…).

Such is why historians should always try to approach history with an assorted set of tools.  They should always try to look across to other disciplines for more refined and inclusive insight to the subject.   That’s my preferred approach, though I must admit it to be a difficult task at times.

Yet we need to address what makes the discipline a separate discipline.  My friend Harry Smeltzer brought this up last fall, when he wrote:

I’ll make it simple – military history to me is not history that simply involves military operations (though based on some awards given out this past year – and pretty hefty ones at that – that does seem to be a working definition for some pretty prestigious organizations.) Military history, in my opinion, at the very least reflects an understanding of  not only military conventions and doctrines of the time in question – say, the American Civil War – but also of how they fit on the developmental timeline.

I’d add to that, in order to understand those conventions and doctrines, we must frame the study using components of military science.  While I don’t want to get on you like an ROTC instructor, there’s a lot of science to the profession of arms.  In the same way economic history requires statistical analysis as a construct, military history leans on a lot of “numbers.”  And it just so happens one of those numbers to consider is indeed the count of “bits” flying out of the muzzle of a cannon… another is how fast those bits were traveling.

To that point, how fast did Emancipation move after January 1, 1863?

Answer: At the pace of the Federal army’s advance.

And what regulated that advance?  In some places the external ballistics of canister from a rifled gun.  You see that old quip about “for the want of a nail…” is not exclusive in application to military history.